Merioneth

County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Elections

DateCandidate
1542EDWARD STANLEY I
1545RHYS VAUGHAN I
1547LEWIS AB OWEN
1553 (Mar.)LEWIS AB OWEN
1553 (Oct.)JOHN SALESBURY
1554 (Apr.)LEWIS AB OWEN
1554 (Nov.)LEWIS AB OWEN 1
1555(not known)
1558ELLIS PRICE

Main Article

Merioneth was an isolated county, far from the headquarters of the council in the marches. With a coastline lacking good anchorages, with infertile soil and a mountainous hinterland, the county went in for cattle breeding and iron production, but general poverty and brigandage hindered the development of either interest. The determined effort of Lewis ab Owen to restore order in Mawddwy failed with his own murder in 1555. The poverty of the region presumably explains why Merioneth alone of the Welsh counties was not provided with a parliamentary borough under the Act of Union. There were only two boroughs possessing charters of their own, Bala and Harlech, but both were in decline: Bere with a charter of 1284 was only nominally a borough. If the old shire town of Harlech resented its lack of representation, the absence of a borough seat does not seem to have intensified the competition for the single seat available. There were half a dozen old county families, the Nanneys, Lloyds of Rhiwgoch, Vaughans of Caer Gai and Corsydegol and Salesburys of Rûg, a cadet branch of the house of Lleweni, but by the reign of Edward VI the Owens of Dolgellau were pre-eminent, Lewis ab Owen being vice-chamberlain of North Wales and baron of the exchequer at Caernarvon. Following ab Owen’s murder the authority wielded by him passed largely to Ellis Price from Denbighshire whose mother and second wife were of Merioneth origin.2

There is no evidence in the mid 16th century of the later custom whereby the leading figures in the county settled on the choice of the knight of the shire before the meeting of the county court to elect him, but it is quite likely that this happened. With only one seat in contention Merioneth men were not disposed to accept patronage from outside. In 1542 they ignored a request from the president of the council in the marches to elect Richard Mytton of Mawddwy, perhaps on the grounds that Mawddwy had only been incorporated in the county at the Union. Their choice on this occasion seems to have been designed to satisfy local interests as well as to please the King, for Edward Stanley was deputy at Harlech castle to the royal favourite Sir Francis Bryan. Two schedules and four indentures, written in Latin, survive for the period. The contracting parties are the sheriff of Merioneth and between ten and 30 freeholders. When in September 1553 John Salesbury was returned, thus interrupting the monopoly of the seat by Lewis ab Owen from 1547 to November 1554, the indenture listed ten to 12 named electors with ‘many other persons’ and claimed that ‘the greater part of the whole county’ had agreed to the choice. All the knights for Merioneth had estates in the county and apart from the youthful John Salesbury had experience of local affairs before election: Salesbury was later pricked sheriff and named to the bench. Several of them were assisted by ties of blood or of friendship with the sheriff. It is possible that Salesbury had the backing of the 1st Earl of Pembroke as president of the council in the marches since he was at the time attendant upon the earl.3

Author: N. M. Fuidge

Notes

  • 1. Huntington Lib. Hastings mss Parl. pprs.